Have you ever noticed that whenever someone does something indisputably heroic and gets on the news, they always deny being a hero?
“You dove into icy rapids to pull that woman to safety! Does that make you a hero?”
“No sir, I just did what anyone else would have done.”
“You could have killed yourself pushing that baby carriage off the train tracks just in time. How does it feel to be a hero?”
“Shucks, I’m no hero. It was just instinct is all.”
“Only a hero would go back into a burning building like that to save a little girl’s puppy!”
“Who me? A hero? Naw–I was just tryin’ to do the right thing.”
It seems that part of being a hero is denying your heroism.
I may have saved a woman from freezing to death recently, but, trust me, I’m no hero. Read the story and you’ll agree. In fact, you’ll probably think I’m more of a jerk than a hero.
It was the Blizzard of ’17…
Wait, let me clarify. Virginia Beach got about six inches of snow and it stayed cold enough for it to stay for four or five days. Around here, that’s a blizzard. We don’t get much snow and when we do, it doesn’t last long, so the area is unprepared for any kind of snowfall. We don’t have enough plows or salt trucks to get side roads cleared, so the whole place just shuts down with just a few inches. Schools close. Stores close. Businesses close.
Well, not the bars. The bars stay open.
And that means there’s work for Uber drivers with four-wheel drive vehicles. I was out all weekend and had a blast plowing through the drifts and sliding on the ice. In fact, I’ve never had more fun Ubering.
It was one in the morning just after the snow ended, and I was hopping busy. Before I’d drop off one passenger, I’d get a request for another ride. At surge prices, too!
I’d left a couple at their house in a quiet neighborhood and was on my way to another pickup just five minutes away, driving slowly. The road was solid ice and bordered by deep drainage ditches where the snow was thick. The world was softly illuminated by moonlight reflected off the snow carpet. I was focused on my driving, intently aware of the precarious conditions.
That’s why it scared me when I saw her floundering in the snow up ahead. It was a woman, belly-down in the ditch flailing her arms like a drowning swimmer. She was facing me and all I could see was her head and torso. Images from the Walking Dead flashed in my imagination. She did have legs, right?
I slowed still more as I got close. What was going on? Did she need help?
As I approached her, she reached up, grabbed a tree branch, and pulled herself out of the ditch and to her feet.
“She’s probably just drunk,” I thought to myself. “Staggering a bit and slipped into the ditch on her way home.” Although we were off the main roads, there were several bars in short walking distance. She was dressed for the weather, too–in a black ski parka with the hood pulled tight about her face and ski gloves.
I decided to keep driving. She was vertical and I had an obligation to my next passenger, right? He was waiting for me after all.
I kept an eye on her in the side mirror though, and I saw her fall again. A dramatic tumble back down into the ditch, head back, arms flying.
An internal dialogue ensued. Like the Faustian angel and demon on my shoulders:
Angel: “You should turn around and help her.”
Demon: “She’s fine. Probably a little drunk, but close to home.”
Angel: “No, she needs help. Better turn around.”
Demon: “But I’ve got a ride to give. I’m making good money tonight.”
Angel: “You can cancel the ride. He’ll get another one. Help her.”
Demon: “Honestly, she looks crazy. Kind of scary. Who knows if she’d even let me help her. She’ll be okay.”
Quite unheroically, I heeded the demon voice. I kept going.
I’m not proud of this. I should have turned around and offered a ride. But that’s what I did.
I hoped the next passenger would need to go back the same way so I could check on her. But he took me another way. And that ride led to another. And another.
But an hour later I couldn’t get the flailing snow lady out of my head. When it hit two AM, I decided to head home, but first, I would take a side trip just to make sure she wasn’t still lying in that ditch. I was sure she’d be long gone, but I needed to alleviate my conscience or I’d be worrying about her all night.
I slowed to a crawl as I passed the spot. I could see where she had fallen, but to my relief, there was no sign of her. I started to head home. Just on the other side of the ditch, however, was the start of a long driveway. Parked in it, just off the road, was an old red pickup truck. And under the truck was a shadowy shape.
My heart jumped again. I pulled ahead and stopped. Her legs were sticking out on the far side of the truck. She was lying face-down in the snow, sheltered under the truck.
“Please don’t be dead,” I thought. If she were dead, it would be my fault.
I rolled down the window and called to her, “Hey! Ma’m! Are you okay? Do you need any help?”
She didn’t answer, but to my great relief, her legs moved. Not dead.
I decided the best idea was to call 911 and stick around until help came. But headlights were coming straight at me from up ahead and as the creeping vehicle neared, I could see it was a Virginia Beach Police SUV.
I flashed my high beams and waved out of my window. They stopped beside me.
“There’s a lady here under this truck. I think she needs help.”
The driver looked at his partner and said, “That’s the one we’re looking for.”
They got out with flashlights and approached.
“Jennifer? It’s the police. We’ve been looking for you. We’re going to help you, okay?”
From under the truck a pitiful, thin voice, barely audible, asked, “Where am I?”
“You’re under a truck,” the cop replied.
I wanted to wait around, hoping to find out was going on, but the guys were doing their job and the lady was going to be okay. I didn’t want to be nosy and get in the way, so I left.
The next day, I told the story to another passenger who told me that the lady was all over the news that night. She was mentally ill and had wandered off from her caretakers. People were asked to be on the lookout and to notify authorities if they spotted her.
It was cold that night. In the low twenties. If I hadn’t spotted her, she might have frozen to death. My kids told me I saved her life.
Yeah, maybe. But I could have done it sooner. And I could have saved her a miserable hour in the snow under a truck.
Thankfully, no reporter has asked me how it feels to be a hero. I’m glad because I’d say it kind of feels the same as being a selfish jerk.